"To all those who are idle in our cities and industries of America, let us provide new hope for the dignity of useful work." Senator Ted Kennedy
Six months ago, on August 26th, the legendary Lion of the Senate, Edward M. Kenney, lost his courageous battle with a brain tumor. Monday, February 22nd would have been his 78th birthday. Today, as we pause to remember Teddy once more, I am especially struck by the void his passing has left in a Congress that too often fails to act on behalf of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. Teddy's big dreams: health care for all, full employment, a hand up for the poor and people with disabilities, are still being debated, but like a sports team that has lost its franchise player, there is a big hole in our game.
If Teddy were here, he would not accept the loss of one player, no matter how pivotal, as an excuse for failure. He would tell us that creating a better, stronger America is a team sport requiring all of us to step up to the plate. He would tell the Senators returning from their President's Day recess that it's time to put partisanship aside. We must pass a jobs bill worthy of the millions of men and women in this country who are struggling to make ends meet and provide for their children in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
He would say to those of us fighting for real, comprehensive health reform, the same thing he said in his 1980 Democratic National Convention speech: "We must not surrender…Let us resolve that the state of a family's health shall never depend on the size of a family's wealth."
Teddy's final gift to us, his memoir, "True Compass," is a compelling read. It describes in honest detail the life of a remarkable public servant whose own personal challenges and setbacks only seemed to strengthen his resolve to make life better for others. In talking about his diagnosis and demise, Teddy's main concerns were for his wife and family, and the unfinished work that meant so much to him.
Before going into surgery, he called a few of his most trusted Senate colleagues, to ask them to shepherd important pieces of legislation just in case he didn't make it through. He survived the surgery, and was even able to speak at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, where he gave a brief, but passionate speech in support of Barack Obama and the cause of his life -- "affordable health care as a fundamental right." I leave you with these words:
"There is a new wave of change all around us, and if we set our compass true, we will reach our destination - not merely victory for our party, but renewal for our nation…And so, with Barack Obama -- for you and for me, for our country and for our cause - the work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on."
Teddy Kennedy's voice and leadership are sorely missed. May we all draw strength from his powerful legacy as we continue his fight for jobs, health care and opportunity for all.
Marc Morial is the president & CEO of the National Urban League